A sharp spike in secondary school pupils testing positive for coronavirus in Scotland has triggered calls for further safety measures by a teaching union.
In the final full week of September, 1,292 children and young people tested positive, almost a 10-fold increase on the 138 new cases at the end of August.
Young people aged between 16 and 19 accounted for 1,160 of those cases in the seven days up to 27th September.
During that week, there were also 38 infections among schoolchildren between the ages of five and 11, while 29 cases were identified in 12 to 13-year olds and 36 positive tests of 14 to 15-year olds.
Pupils returned to schools from 11th August while many colleges and universities welcomed back students in September.
Teaching union NASUWT has now expressed concern about the rising cases among young people, warning that it is increasing the risk for teachers, education staff and the wider community.
NASUWT general secretary Dr Patrick Roach has called on Education Secretary John Swinney to urgently review the situation and identify what further measures can be taken to mitigate any increased risks.
In a letter to Mr Swinney, Dr Roach acknowledged the additional restrictions on pubs, restaurants and shops were aimed at keeping schools open but called for ‘further within-school measures, together with more stringent compliance and enforcement measures’.
Commenting on the letter, Dr Roach said: “Schools should remain open as long as they remain safe.
“But it is clear the spike in the Covid-19 transmission rate in certain secondary school children age groups, and also primary school age groups, coupled with the rise in transmission in the community, could potentially increase the risk to teachers and other education staff unless further measures are introduced in schools to protect them.
“At a time of significantly increased risk of virus transmission within the wider population, the data on the number of cases and testing among children strongly indicates a deeply concerning trend within the secondary school-age population.
“The sharp upward trend in the data is a major concern for our members and secondary schools increasingly appear to be high-risk environments for coronavirus.
“This situation urgently requires attention by the Government and further mitigating measures need to be identified and implemented.”
A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “The safety and wellbeing of pupils and staff is paramount and the guidance published ahead of schools reopening, which was developed in partnership with the Education Recovery Group, sets out clearly what health mitigations should be in place.
“These include risk assessments, enhanced cleaning regimes, good hand and respiratory hygiene, ventilation, use of PPE where appropriate, continuous vigilance for symptoms, and surveillance, testing and outbreak management.
“The way in which the guidance is being implemented in schools is being kept under close review, as is any emerging scientific evidence that will help us to protect our school community.
“Where there is a need to take action, either by updating our guidance or ensuring it is being given practical effect, we will work with teachers, parents, trades unions, local authorities and young people’s representatives to do so.
“Blended learning remains an important contingency that we may still need to enact, if there is an increase in infection rates, or if there are local or national outbreaks that require further action to control.
“We would encourage local authorities to use the full £75 million which we have made available to them for additional teachers – enough for around 1,400 – to help education recovery.”
Picture: A teacher wears a protective face mask while teaching pupils. (Drazen Zigic).